IBM has unveiled a new packaging design for their IBM Q quantum computer, now called the IBM Q System One. The design leverages IBM’s decades worth of experience designing large mainframe computers to provide a distinctive look and packages the system in an airtight sealed and laminated glass cube. And in a sign that IBM is preparing for increased usage of their quantum technology from members of the IBM Q Network, they are establishing a new IBM Q Quantum Computation Center to expand their IBM Q commercial quantum computation program.
The IBM Q System One design brings three key advantages:
Qubit quality as measured by coherence times and gate fidelities are important factors in the performance of a quantum computer. The qubits are very sensitive to any external forces that will cause them to collapse or make an error in a gate operation. So IBM paid particular attention to use all their mechanical and electrical engineering skills to minimize vibrations, keep noise and phase jitter in the control electronics to a minimum, achieve maximal control precision over the low temperature cooling and optimize any other factors that could impact the qubit performance. Engineering these improvements is a process of attending to dozens of different details and IBM used resources throughout their corporation to optimize the design to achieve as high a performance as possible. The communications capabilities of the design have also been improved to provide installation of a quantum computer in close proximity to classical HPC computers for quantum data centers. Although IBM has not yet released some of the key qubit quality parameters like T1, T2, and qubit gate fidelities with this new design, we do expect significant improvement for these metrics from their older designs which we currently have listed on the Qubit Quality page.
RAS (Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability)
RAS has been a key goal for IBM for over 60 years and has helped them successfully install and support thousands of large mainframe computers around the world over this period of time. The concept is to make the design as robust as possible to maximize the mean time between failures (MTBF) and minimize the amount of time that the machine is down and unavailable to the users. If a computer does have a problem, they want to make it as easy as possible for a technician to service it and quickly bring it back up to operational status. To achieve this, IBM developed their own control electronics rather than use off-the-shelf subsystems, optimized the air flow to keep the electronics cool, implemented certain maintenance procedures that can be performed while the system is running and made the design as modular as possible so that many repairs can be accomplished by swapping out subsystems. As an example of their progress, IBM told us that they have been able to install a rack of electronics in a bare machine within a 6 hour period, a process which probably took many days previously. The design incorporates flexibility to accommodate future upgrades.
Although IBM has only announced plans to use these system internally at IBM facilities, a quantum computer designed with these RAS features in mind could set the stage for future sales to those customers insisting on having a quantum computer within their own high security facilities.
Provide a Distinctive Look
It seems that the ghost of Steve Jobs may be roaming the halls of Yorktown Heights. IBM has already been using design to create excitement about their IBM Q program. They have shown a mock-up of what is sometimes called the chandelier (the insides of the machine showing the stages of the dilution refrigerator) at last year’s CES show, various other trade shows and a conference room at the U.S. Congress. For this new design they wanted to show an even higher level of technical elegance and worked with an Italian design company called Goppion to enclose the machine in a ½ inch thick borosilicate 9 x 9 x 9 foot glass case. Although you may have never heard of Goppion, you probably have seen their work many times. They specialize in creating the special glass cases that museums use to protect rare artwork, sculptures and other artifacts. Although quantum physicists may not care much about the physical look, IBM is showing this new design at CES to help get lay people, potential end users, analysts, stockholders and government funding sources excited about their quantum program. We expect they will be showing off this design at many other venues including stockholders meetings, government offices, other trade shows and other demonstrations in the coming years.
IBM Q Computation Center
To expand their quantum cloud capacity, IBM will be creating a new IBM Q Computation Center at their facility in Poughkeepsie, New York. This IBM location, located about 45 miles (about 70 km) north of Yorktown Heights, has been the development headquarters for their mainframe activities for over 60 years. As IBM mentioned in their press release this site is “one of the few places in the world with the technical capabilities, infrastructure and expertise to run a quantum computation center, including access to high performance computing systems and a high availability data center needed to work alongside quantum computers.” A key concept this will enable is colocation. For near-term NISQ computers, which will rely heavily upon hybrid classical/quantum algorithms, it very helpful to locate the quantum and the classical computers in the same facility to eliminate internet transmission delays. Some of these algorithms may pass parameters back-and-forth between the two computers thousands of times and if this communication has to go over an internet connection it could add minutes, or possibly even hours, to the overall runtime.
With the exception of the D-Wave machine, most other quantum computers look like they have been assembled by graduate students in a university physics lab. With this new design and infrastructure, IBM has levered their extensive company-wide engineering capabilities to create a look that says it is a production worthy design. As of yet, we don’t know how well this new design will perform, but we are hopeful it will raise IBM’s quantum machines up to a new level and get them closer to making their quantum efforts a commercial reality.
For those interested in viewing more details about these developments, you can see IBM’s announcement here.